‘It took me a while to discover mince pies,’ says Master Patissier Eric Lanlard. ‘We don’t have them in France – we haven’t yet been invaded with mince pies!’ And so Lanlard ate his first mince pie at the age of 22, when he came to the UK to work as head pastry chef for the Roux brothers. Since his conversion to our Christmas staple in 1989, Lanlard has been a favourite at the British Baking Awards, twice winning Continental Patissier of the Year.
Also known as Cake Boy, Lanlard discovered baking at the age of five, ‘that’s when I decided to become a pastry chef. I was always too ambitious and it was always a disaster – but I never gave up.’ Lanlard is now the proprietor of a ‘cake boutique’ in south-west London. ‘All my friends call me Cake Boy so when I was looking for a name for the shop, there it was!’ Was Cake Boy his nickname in France? ‘It wasn’t, no – Garcon Gateaux doesn’t really work!’
Having decided Lanlard is my go-to mince pie guy, I quiz him on the etiquette of eating them. When can I eat my first mince pie of the year, I ask, as if I haven’t already been through a box from Tesco. ‘December 1,’ he says, ‘before that it’s wrong.’ Yes, it felt wrong. What’s the earliest in the day that it’s acceptable to eat mince pies? ‘Elevenses,’ he assures me, ‘because then it’s time to have a drink as well!’
I like this man. I feel he won’t disappoint when I ask how many mince pies it’s permissible to eat in one day. ‘We do mini mince pies at Cake Boy, so you can have ten and you don’t feel guilty. But I think three is the maximum for the regular size, otherwise you will lose your taste buds.’
I’m here to make mince pies with Lanlard, but I’ll never make them from scratch at home. Is it OK to just buy mince pies? ‘If made correctly, using good ingredients, homemade ones should taste better – there is nothing better than a fresh mince pie straight out of the oven. If you are in a rush, you are allowed to buy some from a small artisan bakery. But, I have to admit, I like the deep fill Mr Kipling ones!’
Cake Boy’s tips for perfect mince pies
1. How to heat mince pies
Cold mince pies are acceptable but if you do want to heat them, pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees, then cover the mince pies with foil. Pierce the foil, so the steam can escape, then heat them for ten minutes. The pastry will stay crispy and the inside will be nice and hot. Never heat them in the microwave, it will make the pastry soggy.
2. Swap suet for butter (and add booze)
I use butter instead of suet. Butter is better because it dissolves completely, and you don’t find those little hard lumps of fat in your mince pies!
3. Don’t dribble
Make your mince pies pretty by topping them with shapes like leaves and stars. Usually when people cut shapes, they stick them on top of the mince pie, then brush them with egg wash – it ends up dribbling and it’s never neat. The best thing is to brush the whole sheet of pastry with egg wash, then cut the shapes.
4. Perfect your pastry
To entertain until the last mouthful, I use two pastries – shortcrust at the base and flaky puff pastry on top, for a different texture. You should buy the puff pastry (all butter) – life is too short to make it! Shortcrust you should make because shop-bought never tastes as nice and it won’t be as crumbly.
5. Best way to serve your pies
I’m all for flavoured cream – you can get good ones with Grand Marnier or Amaretto. Plain crème fraiche is great, too. Mince pies are so rich, it’s nice to have something that cuts through the sweetness. Have them with a glass of champagne or British sparkling wine – definitely not prosecco! It’s already too sweet and everybody drinks prosecco these days.
Bonus tip for a mince pie alternative
Swirl mincemeat (or crumble Christmas cake) into vanilla ice-cream – even people who don’t like mince pies will like it!
Cake Boy hazelnut ale mince pies
For the mincemeat
250g golden sultanas
250g glacé cherries, halved
100g mixed peel
1 tsp vanilla extract
Orange zest, finely grated
Lemon zest, finely grated
125g unsalted butter
250g dark muscovado sugar
250ml Meantime’s Cake Boy Hazelnut Ale
100g ground roasted Hazelnut
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp mixed spice
For the pies
250g shortcrust pastry
250g puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
1. Put all the dried fruit and spices into a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Place the vanilla extract, grated orange and lemon zest, butter, sugar and ale in a small saucepan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved (ensure you do not let it boil). Pour over the mixed fruit and stir gently, without breaking up the fruit pieces. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to infuse for around 48 hours.
2. Once the fruit is infused, pack the mincemeat into sterilised jars and seal. Store in a cool dark place for a couple of weeks to allow the flavours to mature.
3. When you are ready to make the mince pies, preheat the oven to 180C (gas mark 4).
4. Grease six individual 10cm diameter loose-bottomed tartlet tins. Roll out the shortcrust pastry thinly on a lightly floured surface and then use the pastry to line the tins.
5. Once the tins are lined with shortcrust pastry, generously fill the pastry cases with the mincemeat. It is likely you will have some mixture left over for using again.
6. Roll out the puff pastry on a lightly floured surface. When it is around 4-5 mm thin, brush with a beaten egg. Next, cut out six shapes that will be used to top the tarts (this recipe uses a star shape for Christmas). Sprinkle the puff pastry shapes with muscovado sugar, place on top of the individual pies and bake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and slightly puffed.
Eric Lanlard has partnered with Meantime Brewing to create Cake Boy Hazelnut Ale as part of their Pilot Series
Samantha Rea can be found tweeting here